As brave as a lion: a non-lesson in the rules of writing

I’m a jump in the pool without checking the temperature kind of girl. I don’t particularly love instructions, and I never ever follow a recipe. I don’t like schedules, and I hate when people tell me what to do. I bet you can guess my surprise when I stumbled upon all the rules that came along with creative writing….

Now before I get started, I want to clarify that this post is in no way a how to guide. If you’re looking for someone to tell you how to write, keep on walking because that’s not me. But if you want someone to empathise, to throw an arm around your shoulder and say “I’m here for you man.” Grab a seat. There’s a beer in the fridge.

Before I get started with the rules, let me tell you a bit about how I came upon them. One day I was talking with my best friend, and she told me she was going to write a book. “Cool!” I said, and continued to follow her on her journey, sucking in her enthusiasm as she progressed. Before long, I’d eaten the brownies too, and started dreaming up characters for my own story. Imaginary people were keeping me up at night, and I finally started to write their story down.  Within a month, I wrote almost 70K words of my first draft of “Coming Home To You” (title subject to change as I see fit.) Crazy!  But it was pretty much crap, and I knew I needed help.

Those seventy thousand words were what lead me to a little site called Scribophile, and where my stumble into the world of writing began. Where all the rules were presented to me on a silver platter, and I will now reveal those same rules to you.

1. Never ever use an exclamation mark!  EVER!!!  Okay, you may use one every 10,000 words, though preferably less. “WHAT?!” you say. I know. I get you. I’m a former exclamation mark junky, myself. I freaking love them, still use them way too much, but this rule must be followed, or bad things will happen to you. If you want to read more about exclamation marks and fiction writing, check this out.

2. Words that end in LY are bad. HorribLY, AtrociousLY bad. “They’re adverbs, they’re descriptive words. You’d think they’d be okay?”  Yes, I know…I feel you man… but no. Not if you use them too often. This is an indication that you are “telling” too much. I will get into that later, but if you want to read more about why, here you go.

3. ING words. Yep, too many of these little babies, and you’re on the path to very bad things. It’s called a gerund. A word I’d never heard before in my life before starting, setting, I began my little journey. If you want to read more about gerunds, check this out

4. Don’t use the same word twice.  Okay, that’s a little dramatic.  But for all that’s holy, don’t use it in the same paragraph, and NEVER in the same sentence. The reason?  Lazy writing. More here.

5. Cliches.  What is a cliche you ask? “Only time will tell.”  “When you have lemons, make lemonade.” “Cat got your tongue?” Yes, cliches are all those little saying that everyone on earth knows the meaning to. So for God’s sake, don’t go putting them in your story! Make something up, then pray your readers understand what the hell you’re talking about. More on cliches, and why you should avoid them.

6. And last, (I’ll save the others for another day.) “SHOW, don’t TELL.”

“What the F does that mean?” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what went through my mind the first time I heard it.  Basically, telling is going through the motions.  Showing, is giving an experience for your reader. Sound, touch, taste, smell, and sight. Again, if you want to read more on the subject, check this out.

I know… It’s a bit overwhelmING.  BUT, every rule was created for a reason. I’ve grown tremendousLY since joining Scribophile, and I’m grateful to every single person who’s taken the time to point these rules out to me. I’m still learnING, still growING, and still figurING everythING out. But I’ll get there, and so will you.

So with that, I know it’s frustrating, but whatever you do, don’t get your knickers in a bunch. Be brave as a lion. Not weak as a kitten. You are a diamond in the rough, and I’ll see you on the other side. 😉

Flying by the seat of your plans

Go ahead and groan at the bad pun. I deserve it. Today’s topic is: I forgot it’s my turn to blog. But that’s okay. I am a master pantser, which is writer-speak for ad-libber. The tiniest thing can inspire. Some oddly-shaped food remnants, an unusual hairstyle or an out-of-context remark from the person in front of me at the grocery store are all I need to get the creative juices flowing. When that fails, the Hemingway method of alcohol use is always a good standby.

However, rosé doesn’t taste so hot with corn flakes, as I discovered long ago. I’m still okay; I have plenty of angst to pull from this morning.

I have recently discovered the shortcomings of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method; namely, that you might be missing some important elements, like a cohesive plot. Or the climax had the nerve to show up a hundred pages too early. Or the antagonist went soft and is too likable. That’s when it’s time to bite the bullet, gird your loins and look your Achilles heel straight in the eye, which is easier said than done since most heels don’t have eyes. If yours does, please be mindful of others and keep it hidden beneath a sock.

Once you have stopped wasting time by filling your blog with cliches, the real work begins. Take the lovely story you’ve dreamed up and shove it through the horrible, stiff thing that is sometimes known as structure. I used to call it a novel girdle, but people were disappointed to see it had nothing to do with racy undergarments. You do this so that the right things happen at the right times and your audience gets a satisfying experience.

I am suffering through this tortuous experience in the midst of the process now and wish I had access to the wish-granting genie who bestows this amazing ability on the plotters of this world. I see how how it would save so much time to know when to make things happen. I have not this talent.

If someone were to say, Write me out a scene using exactly one quarter of the allotted pages to set up the problem, the next quarter on developing that issue, peak the conflict at the right moment, and then resolve the dilemma in the shortest time possible because no one has any attention span today and they’re not going to stick around for any moral of the story, my mind goes completely blank. Not to mention I am more turned off than if someone commanded me to climax on cue.

I felt like pitching a fit and yelling, ‘You want drama! I’ll give you drama!’ whilst hurling my manuscript off a cliff (a metaphorical one, because I would never toss my beloved Mac). But then I calmed down, read some stuff about how to plot and now have an idea how to fix this mess.

Too early to say if this whole ‘structure’ and ‘planning’ thing will work, but at least I’m sitting calmly before this machine and not paying a hefty fine for littering and/or committing more crimes against literature.

I accept my limitations, that I have to ‘waste’ some time on just letting my mind flap around, free as bird, happy and unrestrained by anything like laws of reality. Wile E. Coyote could have learned a thing or two from me; namely, that sometimes it’s smarter not to look down.

When I’m done freewheeling, then I also have to accept that if I ever want anyone else to admire my creation, I’m going to have to rope that sucker in and cage it, wash it off and fluff it so that it looks like a bird and not a tornado-blown mass of feathers and other random bits.

The moral of this story is: there isn’t one. Haven’t you heard? No one sticks around to read the end credits.

Say What?

On this adventure of writing a novel, I’ve learned the importance of dialogue.  Dialogue is a tool which moves the story forward, provides information to the reader, and entertains. However; sometimes what a character says is not as important as how they say it.

Dialect, the manner in which a person speaks a turn of phrase, can set the scene of a story.  It can explain, among other things, the nationality, social status, or age of a character.  Dialogue becomes more realistic with phrases and references from a specific region.

Dialect is not to be confused with accents. Accents are the way in which a person speaks, not the words and phrases that a person uses. The way a person in New York speaks in much different than someone from Australia.

In Atlantic Canada, we speak of individuals “from away,” meaning the person in question is not local. If someone is from “The Rock” we mean Newfoundland not Alcatraz Island. A “Bluenoser” is a native Nova Scotian.

A Newfoundlander might ask, “How she going?” instead of “How are you today?” The phrase “my love” is used like some people use the word “dear”.

My characters use subtle phrases that speak to the country and region they hail from. But they don’t swim in the dialect because in real life, not everyone does.

And, they won’t be saying one of the most notorious Canadian language stereotypes- Eh?

I’ve only heard this one spoken by someone unconsciously in discussion twice in my life. “Eh” is tacked on to the end of a question. It’s not a question on its own, a statement, or a random word Canadians tack on to the end of a sentence.

An atypical use of the phrase would be: I went to the gym today, eh.

While a typical use of the phrase would be:  “Looks like rain today, eh?”

Making the decision on the level of dialect to use with your characters is an important one.  Dialect colours the character, adds increasing depth to their persona and consequently to the entire story.

But it can also be distracting. Some dialects are very thick and would be difficult to translate onto a page.  Finding balance between a character’s speech and the reader’s ability to follow is important.

When considering how your character is going to speak, I suggest three things:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know your character
  3. Know your location
  4. Know your time period

Okay, you’re right. Time period doesn’t have much to do with dialect, other than the fact that dialect changes over time.

But it’s a great segue to tell you about a wonderful Regency novella a talented member of the Happy Author’s Guild published.

Appetizer: Pure Seduction by Roxanna Haley, set in London during the Regency Era, is the story of Ellen and David and contains excellent examples of period dialogue. It’s a fun, sexy story which can be read in one sitting and it is well worth the investment. You can find it on Amazon here:

Go Read!

Million Dollar Instincts

I hate editing. I like it about as much as I like cleaning the bathroom, but it has to be done. Plus the end result is always so shiny and fresh. In this writing journey, there’s something to be said about trial and error. It’s a writer’s best friend.

In The Creative Writer’s Survival guide, author John McNally said “If you want to be a writer, you have to love sentences.” At the time, I scoffed at the thought. Who cares about sentences? It’s the story that matters. Fast forward twelve months later. Ask me the question again, do you love sentences?

YES. Along with paragraphs and clever phrases. I’ve come to love the craft of writing as much as the story. Reading new authors work, has opened my eyes to a new form of entertainment.

Good stories largely depend on the sum of its parts. Then there’s the often quoted rule, “The first chapter needs to hook your readers.” Guess what? Every chapter needs to hook your readers.

How does that knowledge translate to editing your own story? A good story shouldn’t just hook the reader from the beginning, if I can jump in at chapter eighteen and become engrossed, then I’m probably going to read the rest of the story.

As for tips on editing a story, it’s possible you already have a process that works for you, but you haven’t identified it yet.

I stumbled upon my editing process after a lot of research and a lot of error. I’ve tried scene and sequel outlining, flash cards, highlighting the hard copy. But there was one thing I always did, but didn’t label as editing. After I wrote a first draft I’d go back to the sentences or dialogue I was tickled pink about. I’d gush about how wonderful this piece was and dream about being on Oprah’s couch (this was when Oprah still had a couch). Unbeknownst to me, my sub-consciousness was signaling that this is the best part of the story.

Once you’ve identified the parts of your story that you love, then we come to EDITING. I know it’s a seven letter swear word, which I often procrastinate on (just ask my Scribophile groups). But editing doesn’t have to feel like nails on the chalkboard, if we let our instincts drive the process.

I used to do it instinctively, then I read a bunch of rule books that turned the process of editing into a Nightmare on Elm St. But now I’m starting to realize the process doesn’t have to be that hard.

Here’s my own step by step process for editing.

  1. Map your chapters

Drop the paper bag and quit hyperventilating. I know it sounds super complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. My map is a simple excel sheet. I put the chapter, the word count and a brief description of what happened in the chapter. It’s usually one or two sentences.

Don’t skip this step. I know it seems tempting, but this is a crucial part of the process. After you’re done with your first draft you’re going to need a map of your chapters. It’s easy to think you can keep all of the details of your story in your head, but unless you’ve got a photographic memory, I suspect you won’t remember everything.

I don’t want you to end up like me, taking two years to edit a story. That’s not a pretty picture. Especially when the relatives start asking you, if you’ve wrote any new novels lately.

  1. Go to your happy place.

It’s fun to edit the stuff you’re in love with, so start there.

Peanut Gallery: But we need to start from the beginning…

Sure that’s one way to do it, but it’s guaranteed to stuff you full  of anxiety. Next thing you know April has turned into August and you still haven’t edited that thirty-five hundred word short.

  1. List the happy places.

By now the parts you love are saying what you envisioned. You’ve described their hair color, given them some clothes, changed their names, cause they sounded like brother and sister at one point (we’re writing romances, people).

Make a list of all the chapters or scenes you like. This step is crucial. Once you know what you like, getting those ugly stepsister chapters into shape will feel easier.

If you’ve mapped your chapters, you can mark the ones you liked.

  1. Identify the happy

So what is it about these chapters that make you dream of being on the New York Times Bestsellers list?

You might look at your map and notice some trends. Do the chapters you like, have shorter word counts? It might mean the action was quicker there. Now you’ve got your first clue: pick up the pace.

  1. Talk to the stepsisters

Once you’ve identified what you like about your happy places, it’s time to make a list of the chapters you don’t like. The ones that make you shut the computer down and confirm “being a novelist isn’t going to happen.” Or if you’re like me, you look at the computer and say, “Someone’s been playing around on my laptop. Who wrote this?”

Peanut Gallery: Now that we know which chapters need work, can we start from page one and edit this story?

Nope. Follow your instincts. Often times you’ll have solutions for random chapters, if you force yourself to edit in a linear fashion, it becomes a chore again. Let your instincts guide you. Pick the ones that have crystal-clear solutions and work your way down to the ones that you don’t have a clue how to fix. By the time you get to the hard ones, your instincts will most likely have a plan mapped out for you.

Your killer instincts are the ones that started the story, and they should be the ones to finish it.

About The Author

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

Woven Into Knots

Earlier this year, one of my favorite places on the internet, TWOP (TelevisionWithoutPity) was shut down. Thousands of pages of forum posts that meticulously snarked and broke down hundreds of television series were suddenly gone from the internet. I don’t want to admit can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent after watching a series, then reading and responding in discussion about things I loved and things I didn’t.

I was crushed. I’d learned so much reading those threads, and would miss it every time I discovered a new-loved series.

One of the most interesting things I took from my years on that board(mostly reading and lurking) was how many different ideas people had about how a story could go.

As a writer myself, I’m often seeing how true that is, and how even the tiniest decisions are tied to a thread that weaves through a carefully interwoven plot.

One huge plot point in the current story I’m writing has haunted me in this way. In my first outlines, I had two characters come together. I planned out how it would affect them emotionally, but after comments from a friend, I realized how I hadn’t explored in-depth how it would affect their relationships with the people around them. All of a sudden, I realized that some of the those changes would permanently shift the relationships of multiple characters in my story in a way I wasn’t sure I wanted.

It felt uncomfortable to me, and while it could have been interesting, I realized that it would have put a dark cloud over the entire rest of the series. I already have a fairly complex and dark story, and didn’t want it to become so depressing there was no lightness or hope in the read. So, I did what any author does, and adjusted the story to scale back the scene. And then, like the insanity that writing brings, I kept re-adjusting, and then re-adjusting again. With each of those tweaks, I pulled a different string that had links in different parts of the story.

During this and a few other changes, I realized that the thread pulling wasn’t linear, and my woven piece was more like an intricate knot. If I pulled, other things tightened around the piece and shifted everything else. So those adjustments needed to be thoughtful, and I always had a fallout to the decision.

In trying to come to any decision about my story, I’m noticing a trend where I feel frozen and unable to move forward. My most recent bout of this is actually not about the above mentioned plot conundrum, but was about a simpler one, that still weighed heavy on me. My solution is to usually do what others call procrastinating, but I like to call stepping away to gain perspective. So, I Netflix and Prime any free-time away and then catch up on the gossip on message boards. Doesn’t that sound productive?

Anyway, while re-watching one of my favorite shows(Veronica Mars in case you’re interested), I stumbled across another snarky but deeply thoughtful message board with a thread about the show. I wasted explored some time there, and was engrossed in reading their early theories of what direction the show could/should/would go in. There were so many different, yet interesting ideas that I again was instantly fascinated with the fallout that each suggestion created. Out of every five or so theories that were thrown around, at least three usually seemed enjoyable and even plausible.

I was  slapped in the face with the notion that there wasn’t a ‘right’ way to tell the story. Just equally different ways. That could easily apply to my own writing as well. My constant fear of course is then making a decision that leads me into a corner, or into a place that’s not relatable to many. That’s part of the adventure in the process though I guess, and one I should embrace because it’s what makes each story unique.

I’m still unsure exactly how far I’ll take the characters at that point in the book. I like the messiness of it, the realness of something coming together that probably shouldn’t but does because the stakes are high. Playing and bouncing it around in my brain will get me to the final decision. And whatever place I decide to go, it will be the direction that feels most intuitive for me in a sea of many I could take. There’s something so lovely about that, and it’s probably what draws me to writing in the first place. It’s like life. There’s no right answer, just a world full of options that lead us to interesting twists we have to figure out.

Reasons For Writing Romance

So you think you want to write and you’re thinking Booker Prize rather than a RITA (awarded for excellence in romantic fiction), so why would you want to write romance? It’s pink on the colour spectrum, the candy floss of confectionary and Benidorm of holiday destinations. It receives little or no respect.

I initially chose to write romance for practical reasons – because there are publishers out there actively seeking authors such as Harlequin Mills and Boon. Their competition ‘So You Think You Can Write’ (SYTYCW) is currently under way. I am a big fan of this competition and have learned so much form both participating and observing. I can’t think of any other genre where editors offer so much help and support to new authors.

But the reason I continue to write romance is not purely for practicality. As I slowly learn the craft, I have found it to be immensely satisfying and challenging. It is not easy to write something that will tug on people’s heart strings, to understand the inner workings of your character’s mind so that you know how they are going to react in any given situation. Like anything else in life it takes time and effort to learn how to do it well.

Therapist and author, Ann Smith says ‘By nature we are all addicted to love meaning we want it, seek it and have a hard time not thinking about it. We need attachment to survive and we instinctively seek connection, especially romantic connection. There is nothing dysfunctional about wanting love.’ Perhaps this in part explains why romance novels habitually out sell other genres. Love is part of the human condition and it is only natural that people are drawn to both reading and writing about it.

For the record, pink is my favourite colour, the making of candy floss fascinates me, Benidorm is a fun destination and you always know what you are going to get. We all like what we like and there is nothing wrong with that. I like writing romance and discovered one of the most compelling reasons for doing so when I was browsing the Mills and Boon Facebook page one day. A lady from half way across the world had written ‘I love reading Mills and Boon, they make me so happy,’ and that’s a good enough reason for me.



Rebloging from A Novel Approach

Today I am tickled to help a friend and fellow writer get the word out about her scintillating novel, Prince Charming Need Not Apply, including a sneak peek at the cover. Dara Young is “Lighting your fire with strong women…and the men who love them.” How cool is that? Or should I say, how hot is that? Well, here’s a little overview.

Reformed party girl and Chief Cosmetics Officer for rising star Swirl Cosmetics, Sabrina Calihan has sworn off men. But when she meets beauty industry colleague Max March, new head of the Christina Max beauty empire, she finds herself struggling to keep him at arm’s length.

Max is determined to have the sexy woman he first met on the red-eye from Los Angeles. Unconcerned about her professed vow of celibacy, he is ruthlessly determined to show her just how good things can be between them.

He wines and dines her despite her assurances that Prince Charming need not apply. But, as love begins to blossom on a personal level corporate issues bubble to the surface and threaten a happy ending. Now Sabrina must discover if she can win her prince charming back, or if all is lost.

I’m so looking forward to this book, and this excerpt adds to my anticipation:

Alone but for the music, they sat and sipped their wine. Despite knowing intellectually that Max would turn on the charm tonight, she could never have been prepared for this onslaught. His full court press was powerful. Seductive.

So tell me, Sabrina. Why have you sworn off men?” Max threaded his fingers through hers and relaxed back in his chair.

She listened to the instrumental version of Unforgettable and weighed how much to share. “It’s a long story.”

We have all night.”

Longer even.” Her mouth dried up which left her tongue stuck inside it like a strip of beef jerky.

I won’t be distracted. We’ll come back to that comment.”

You are tenacious. Very well, you should hear the truth at some point.” She took a sip of her wine in need of both the moisture and the fortification. “I got tired of settling for Mr. Wrong-But-Very-Convenient. After a string of horribly shallow and often incredibly dumb men I had to bring it all to a halt. I called a hiatus to give myself some practice at being alone.”

The first course arrived.

And that was six months ago?”

Yes. I’ve been working on figuring out what I want.”

What conclusions have you come to?” He ate his amuse-bouche.

Abstinence is easy when you aren’t actually tempted.” And that made having dinner with him either the most courageous thing she’d ever done, or the absolute dumbest.

No list of character traits you’re looking for in a future mate?” His throat worked up and down as he took a swallow of wine. She couldn’t have peeled her gaze from the tantalizing sight if her dress had caught fire.

I’m a bit more fluid than that. I leave the strategies and obsessive list making to Elle. I’m more of the I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it type.”

Hhmm…doesn’t give a man much to go on.”

I don’t need a man who is trying to conform to a detailed list of requirements. I need a man who knows who he is and is willing to learn who I am. I need a man who can live with the realities those truths entail. Prince Charming need not apply.”

Duly noted. So, what time do you turn into a pumpkin, Cinderella?”


Pre-Order Link for Amazon – Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA

About Dara Young – I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, one of two children and grew up in Florida and Alabama. I later graduated from Auburn University Montgomery with a BS in Political Science and a minor in History.

My mother once asked me what I would do with a poly sci degree. At that moment I happened to have a romance novel in my hand, the author of which was a poly sci major. I quickly held it up and said, “Well, I can write romance novels!” How prophetic!

I specialize in configuration management, and I pursue my love of writing romance in my spare time. I dream of one day commuting to my living room in my bathrobe for work.

I met my husband my first week living in New York City. While he does not share my love of books, he does support my writing wholeheartedly! We were married in November 2000, and now share a beautiful home in Southern California.


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Thanks for reading, mark your calendar for the release day, 10/12/2014, and I’ll be back on Sunday.

Inspiration Runneth Over

The wonderful writers who put up the posts here in rotation are all from the same group at Scribophile, and all keep track of our main characters, male and female, with Pinterest, Tumblr, and other on-line conglomerates of photos. We use models, actors, and anyone who comes up with the hair color, eye color, and nationality we are looking for. I’ve used Brad Pitt as the model for my Regency Viscount, Miles.

One of the best writers uses David J. Gandy as her inspiration for an Italian playboy billionaire alpha male. Yes, you are all drooling right now, aren’t you? Kathryn L. James was scheduled to post today, but as happens now and then, life got in her way. So in tribute to her and the awesome novel she’s working on, here’s Blake – I mean, David – in a few fun videos.

I had not heard of Mr. Gandy until Ms. James began posting pictures and videos of him. So in case you are equally in the dark, Tall, Dark, and Handsome is British, won a contest for modeling when he was 21 years old, and began a trend toward more masculine, muscular guys in those Dolce & Gabbana outfits. For this, women of the world could never thank him enough.

Warning! This photo is not safe for work, probably not safe for humans! Lock the kids in the basement. David Gandy and milk. It does a body good. Yowzer!

These are a little safer, maybe PG 17?

Here’s a current campaign for Marks and Spencer for a line of men’s undergarments collaboratively designed by David Gandy. The underwear are probably top line, the commercial is breathtaking. It also may take a while to load and buffer so you can watch it without the film freezing. I personally don’t mind the freeze frame views.

I am impress with his acting abilities as well as modeling. He should have a huge list of movie credits, but maybe that’s not what he wants to do. Here he shows his sweeter side, enduring lots and lots of kisses from his fans.

Any questions? There may be an answer here.

You know he has to have a regime every day for exercise and diet to keep that lushious body. This is a bit of it, and he says the word nipple.

In conclusion, this is an inteview and fun 6 and a half minutes to glimpse into his world. And he mentions that other male model superstar, Derek Zoolander.

We’ll be back on Wednesday. If you have pulled yourself back together by then, please join us.

“So, you’re writing a book?”

My sudden interest in writing took everybody, including myself, by surprise. The news that I was fiddling with a story sent shock waves through my circle of friends and family.

I hadn’t quite anticipated the reaction. Had I known, I wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place. But now it’s out there, and it’s impossible to take back the words or pretend they misunderstood me.

Initially, when I decided to tell my friends and family that I’m trying to write a novel, it was because I thought a bit of pressure would be good.

Kind of the same way the peer pressure in a weight loss group gives you no alternative, but to buckle up and resist temptations. The mere thought that you’d be the only one at the collective weighing that have gained weight the past week is so traumatic it’s simply not an option.

I had this crazy idea it would be the same way with writing. I’d tell them, and get some help to stay focused and keep writing. It’s not like they’re not supportive. They are, in their…own way. They’re all eager to read, but I doubt it’s because they truly have faith in me as a writer.

Yup, as you’ve probably already gathered, my confession didn’t work quite as planned.

I’m just relieved I never told them my pen name and it’s impossible for them to track me at the moment.

This is roughly what it happened…

In a weak moment I mentioned to one friend that I was writing, and that I really, really enjoyed it.

A few nights later, all the hens (that’s my girlfriends and myself) are gathered to drown our sorrows and solve world problems with alcohol.

The red wine is opened and the glasses are filled. All the normal topics are discussed in great detail; nappy rashes, the increased kindergarten fee, the notoriously unfaithful bastard of a husband that, for some unfathomable reason, one of my girlfriends still wants to keep. Our favorite clothing store has a sale on, and have you seen the last episode of Sons of Anarchy? Holy crap! Charlie Hunnam is so freaking hot, we all discreetly dab away a bit of drool just thinking about him, even though he’s probably too young for us. Lets not even go there, it will bring us on to Botox and anti-wrinkle lotions and other depressing topics. That’s the kind of conversations that float around the table while the glasses are topped up.

Out of nowhere, silencing everything else: “So, you’re writing a book?”

“Maybe.” I cringe, not sure I’m ready to go there. Why did I mention it in the first place?

“About what?”

“Life and love, I guess.”

“Really? So, when can we read it?”

“I’ve got no idea. Probably never.”

“No, seriously.”

“That was serious. Look, I’ve told myself I’ll try to have a draft ready for my fortieth birthday.”

“What? You gotta be kidding! That’s like two years from now.”

I know.”

“So what genre is it?”

“I have no idea.”

They laugh as if I’ve said something really funny.

“No seriously, I’ve got no idea.”

“She’s writing the next Fifty Shades,” somebody says. “She’s just too shy to admit it.”

Thank you.

“You are?!” An excited unison exclaim from the whole table.

“Definitely not. How the hell am I supposed to write stuff like that? I almost died of embarrassment when I watched Basic Instinct.”

“You’re not?” In disappointed unison from the whole table.


“Maybe she’s writing about us.”

Shucks. “No, no, no, I’m not. They’re all fictional characters. It’s fiction, not real life stuff.”

“But I bet they’ll be inspired by us.”

“I don’t think so. They’re made up. They don’t exist in real life.”

“Well, you had to draw inspiration from somewhere…” It’s quite clear that my friends think the nutty crowd around the table is the obvious place to search for inspiration.


The table gasps at the prospect. Then they start looking at each other, wondering who’ll be good girls and who’ll play the role as Cruella De Vil.

“Oh, this is so cool,” says one of the single ones. I imagine she could see herself in a Carrie Bradshaw type of role.

“Don’t you fucking dare. I’m not having my messed up life smeared onto book pages,” says a mother of three, currently in the middle of a divorce. She threatens me with her wine glass. I’m not sure if she’s considering pouring the content over my head or break it and use it as a weapon. In the end the precious drops win and nothing much comes out of it.

But that’s still where it took off…

To make a long story that included a lot of wine (some will claim way too much), very short, my friends seem to have a strong need and will to link both physical appearances and personal traits of my characters to real people. Like in a very strong urge.

It’s terrifying. The pressure. And the danger. Fuck, I feel like there are toes to step on everywhere I look now.

It’s also quite a blow for my imagination, or lack of, if my friends’ reaction is anything to go by. The idea that I would be capable of inventing characters out of the blue is not something they’re willing to buy into just like that.

And it makes me question their opinion of me. What have I done to make them think I’d write a story like a tabloid gossip magazine and use our dirty, little secrets to spice it up? Why, oh, why?

I felt like drowning myself in the wine when I realized almost any feature or personal trait I’d attribute to one of my characters can also be linked to a person we know, if you really, really want to. But are my friends connecting the dots correctly, or are they just making a big, messy tangle of it all?

Who are these characters? Where do they come from? Why did they decide to set camp in my head? Are they products of my imagination only, or are they actually a fusion or blend based on real people? What I see as vague resemblances at best, can be seen as real inspiration by others. And it matters, to some extent.

This is getting too messy to deal with at the bottom of the wine bottle, I decide.

“So…back to Charlie Hunnam…”

Some distractions never fail.